Korean golfer Kang Wook-Soon rekindled his love affair with the UBS Hong Kong Open when a sparkling opening round of six under par 64 at the sunkissed Hong Kong Golf Club gave him the first round lead. The 39 year old former two time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner was the last Asian golfer to win the co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Asian Tour at the course in 1998, and sparked memories of that day with a fine opening effort.
Kang finished the day one shot clear of Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson, India’s Jyoti Randhawa and Rick Gibson of Canada, who all posted opening 65s. But the day belonged to the Korean who owed his lofty position to a sensational finish over the Hong Kong Golf Club’s back nine.
One under par for the tournament with six holes to play, the man nicknamed ‘Hahoetal’ in Korean which means ‘friendly face’, looked far from leader material, but he certainly lived up to his nickname when he reeled off five birdies on the trot from the 13th hole, his birdie putts ranging in length from four to 18 feet.
“Up to that point, I had missed putts of six feet on the tenth and the 12th,” he said. “The greens are a bit grainy and I was not used to it but I then started to read the greens a bit differently. I also looked back at my past successes here in Asia and the memories certainly helped me.”
One shot behind, Erlandsson led the European Tour challenge, a round of 65 which proved to be a refreshing change from last week’s Volvo China Open where he missed the cut. The Swede put the good score down to an upturn in his putting which was sparkling on the front nine where he needed the blade on only 11 occasions.
“My putting was a bit off last week which was a bit disappointing there but now it is pretty much on and hopefully it will stay on for a few more days,” he said. “I holed a good 15 foot putt at the last for birdie which summed up my putting day, I just tried to strike the ball well, just let it happen and it went in.”
Alongside Erlandsson, India’s Jyoti Randhawa was another contented man as he rolled in six birdie putts in total in his 65 which more than made up for his only bogey of the day which came at the 426 yard 15th.
“I'm pretty happy. I played well last week and I knew how to swing the golf club and had a bit of confidence,” he said. “I made some good putts today and I'm quite happy with the way I played. It's not easy as the ball is rolling so much on the fairways. I made one or two good saves and holed a good chip as well at the sixth. I'm very happy.”
Asian Tour regular Rick Gibson of Canada looked far from challenging from the lead himself when he dropped a shot at the opening hole but he soon put that disappointment behind him to move up alongside Erlandsson and Randhawa with his own 65.
The 44 year old also threw in a three putt bogey at the 11th but made sure he was comfortably in red figures with seven birdies elsewhere including five in six holes around the turn, and at the last where he rolled home his putt from six feet.
“I had three weeks off before coming here and, after bogeying the first, I thought it might have been too much,” he admitted. “But then I just relaxed and made a nice putt for par on the fourth from 12 feet. And then I birdied the next four. I think the par putt got me settled in.
“The course is in excellent shape. The greens are trickier, a bit faster than the past. You have to be careful and I had a three putt on the 11th. I think that was one of the new greens. I got a bit aggressive on it and misjudged the speed.
“It's playing dry and fast. The greens are firm. I played well in Delhi in same conditions and I play well in Australia in these sort of conditions. I would imagine some of Australians would play well this week. It reminds me of a lot of the courses in Melbourne.”
Behind the trio in second place, the European Tour challenge for the €170,590 (£166,584) top prize gathered momentum, with three Members – François Delamontagne, Søren Kjeldsen and Richard McEvoy – sharing fifth place after respective opening 66s.
Further down the leaderboard, two of the pre-tournament favourites did not have the best of days, eight time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie only carding a one under par 69 while last week’s Volvo China Open winner Paul Casey posted a 74.
But both players finished strongly to give them hope for the remainder of the tournament, Montgomerie recovering from a double bogey seven at the third to finish under par while Casey birdied his final three holes to turn a potential seven over par round into a four over par one.
“I did okay,” said Montgomerie. “I took seven up the third and if I made a four there I’d have shot 66. So no big deal, three more rounds to go and so there is nothing wrong, three 65s and you never know.”
Casey added: “Everything that could have happened on my front nine, did happen! Stuck behind trees, all sorts, not good. It is tricky and combined with a couple of bad shots it was all going against me. But on my second nine it seemed to come together a bit and I started to get a few breaks as well and that was that. But at least I hung in there.”
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